The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Words for the Wind” is a love poem in four parts. In it, Theodore Roethke demonstrates his characteristic concern for and sense of union with nature, his questing curiosity about the meaning of things, and finally his belief that meaning is ultimately discovered through feeling and intuition, not through rationality. Yet what really helps the speaker to become one with all and to answer the questions he asks (or, really, to recognize the unimportance of the questions or the answers) is love felt for and returned by another person.

There appears to be no progression in the various parts of the poem, but there is a pattern. The speaker repeats verses (apparently addressed to no one) that resemble snatches of old songs (“Love, love, a lily’s my care”) or nonsense rhymes (“She’s sweeter than a tree”). He also notes events in nature: “The shallow stream runs slack;/ The wind creaks slowly by.” He has questions about what he observes: “Are flower and seed the same?” Sometimes, there are answers that defy common sense: “Whatever was, still is,/ Says a song tied to a tree.” The speaker also describes his own contented condition: “Mad in the wind I wear/ Myself as I should be.” He believes that nature is favorably disposed toward him because “the birds came down/ And made my song their own.” The poet’s beloved appears from time to time, raising no conflicts, as accepting and pleasant with the poet as the rest of nature is: “She likes wherever I am.”


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Words for the Wind Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Roethke married his wife, Beatrice, in January, 1953, and “Words for the Wind” was published the next year, so while it is clearly a celebration of his love for her, it is more specifically an epithalamium, or wedding song. The tradition of the epithalamium, a poem in celebration of a marriage, began in antiquity and reached what many regard as its finest expression in Edmund Spenser’s “Epithalamion” (1595). Such a poem is usually set in a pastoral environment in which the poet not only praises his bride but also invokes the tender elements of nature and asks for divine blessings on the nuptials. Roethke performs all these traditional poetic tasks but with a modern twist: The poet and his love are not only in nature but also a part of it; not only the bride’s beauty is noted but also her sensuality; and, finally, there is no need to ask the blessings of God because love itself is a confirmation of and experience of divinity.

A number of images and metaphors appear in this poem and connect it to the rest of Roethke’s work, which makes use of the same devices. Most notable among these are the images of the stone, the rose, the tree, light, and the vine as well as the metaphor of the dance, which Roethke often used as a way of describing life lived properly, with a sense of regard for other life. Foremost among the metaphors for life, though, is wind, for not only does the word “wind” appear in the title of the poem, but also the poem...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Words for the Wind Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Theodore Roethke. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Bogen, Don. Theodore Roethke and the Writing Process. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991.

Bowers, Neal. Theodore Roethke: The Journey from I to Otherwise. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Kalaidjian, Walter B. Understanding Theodore Roethke. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

Kusch, Robert. My Toughest Mentor: Theodore Roethke and William Carlos Williams (1940-1948). Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999.

Malkoff, Karl. Theodore Roethke: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

Seager, Allan. The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Stiffler, Randall. Theodore Roethke: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.

Wolff, George. Theodore Roethke. Boston: Twayne, 1981.